Rethinking education in the context of sustainable development in Trinidad & Tobago

The Tobago Main Ridge Forest Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was first established in 1776. Photo by Aivar Ruukel on Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0.

This post was first published on Cari-Bois Environmental News Network; an edited version appears below as part of a content-sharing agreement.

By Sean McCoon

With sustainable development at the core of environmental policies, it’s important that decision-makers pair these policies with strategic action to sufficiently empower the next generation to be environmental custodians. While this goal may seem elusive, it is possible for children to become change makers who lead the charge on environmental causes.

In schools, children may be taught about local folklore characters like Papa Bois who live in harmony with the natural environment and serve as its protector, but such literature can also be considered a starting point from which to teach young children about environmental consciousness and begin to revamp our education system to be more environmentally focused.

With little to no time to waste as climate change and other environmental issues accelerate at alarming rates, a comprehensive approach to empowering the next generation is needed.

A challenge faced in developing environmental policies is not just protecting the natural environment, but also having an effective enforcement system where justice is served against those who perpetuate harmful or detrimental acts in that environment.

The indiscriminate dumping of waste at the foothills of Tobago’s Main Ridge Forest Reserve (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) is one example of this discrepancy. While it is expected that solid waste will be generated, illegal dumping and other unsustainable environmental practices should not be. In such a scenario, it's common to point fingers at the legal framework or the powers that be, but in actuality, structures to address such issues already exist. It is often a lack of enforcement that leads to the proliferation of unsustainable practices.

We need to effectively utilise the country’s protective services, as well as those charged with the responsibility of being gatekeepers for environmental conservation, in this regard, but even these actions will be futile if citizens aren’t also more environmentally conscious.

Revamping the goals of education

Traditionally, the education system has been branded as a tool by which to climb the economic ladder. As such, some children may view education solely from the perspective of gaining material possessions. While it’s debatable whether this approach to the outcomes of a comprehensive education is healthy or not, education is also a tool for reform, edification and empowerment.

Trinidad and Tobago's education system can no longer boast of being a blend of that which was handed down from the colonial past and culturally submerged norms and principles. Our changing world and its environmental challenges, require a revamp of how we view education.

It is critical to insert principles that engender a sense of pride and protection for the environment. Modern-day education should reaffirm in the minds of young children that there is value in protecting, preserving and conserving nature.

Existing social structures key to education reform

As the rate of climate change continues to increase, it is important that young people and children become involved in leading discussions, spreading awareness, motivating others to take action, and taking action themselves.

Common community-based initiatives, like police youth clubs and environmental groups, are easy starting points from which to revamp the education system because they already have experience in creating successful, community-based projects that provide useful, practical experiences for children.

These types of organisations have the opportunity to advance the participation of youths in the climate fight by developing their skills, talents and oratory prowess, as is done in the Youth Assembly Legislature sessions. In doing so, organisations like UNESCO, UNICEF and UNDP may also be inclined to support such initiatives, financially or otherwise.

Involving young people in the rehabilitation of physical spaces can be pivotal in teaching them to have greater responsibility in environmental custodianship. There are a myriad of tools that can be used to teach children more environmentally sustainable practices. Food banks can help impart the value of financial literacy through small-scale crop cultivation, while encouraging “trade negotiations” between various groups can teach children sustainable livelihood practices.

Food and agriculture stakeholders also play a crucial role in the movement to combat climate change, poverty and hunger. Incorporating sustainable agriculture into a reformed education system aligns with the United Nations Sustainable Development goals, and if children can see that there are financial incentives in sustainable agricultural ventures, there is the additional benefit of them being encouraged, assisted and guided in the direction of sustainability.

No time left to waste

Promoted through activities that help young people develop social, ethical, emotional, physical, and cognitive competencies, youth development is a process that prepares young people to meet their full potential.

This process can support young people by assessing their strengths and weaknesses, helping them set personal and vocational goals, honing their confidence and self-esteem, and harnessing various sources of motivation to improve their skills.

A comprehensive youth development framework also assists young people in developing their ability to guide their peers on a course of action, influence opinions and behaviours, and serve as exemplars. What better cause than the environment to create role models and heroes?

Young people can now take up the mantle of those who have gone before us to champion efforts that may seem minimal on the face of it, but in the long term, become a shining beacon of hope.

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